ASEAN Urges Burma to Release Political Prisoners 
By Daniel Schearf
Hua Hin/Cha-Am
01 March 2009


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has ended its summit in Thailand with a short statement encouraging Burma to release political prisoners and allow democracy.

Host Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva officially ended the two-day ASEAN summit.

At a press briefing, he told journalists the Southeast Asian leaders agreed to work harder on regional cooperation and speeding up economic integration.

He said the alliance also gave a message for their least popular member, Burma, officially known as Myanmar.

"The ASEAN leaders encouraged Myanmar to continue cooperation with the United Nations and to make sure that the roadmap continues according to plan, and that the process would be as inclusive as possible, which includes, of course, the continuation of the release of prisoners or political detainees and also the participation of political parties in the upcoming election," said Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Burma's military-run government has drawn out a "roadmap to democracy" that critics say is designed to keep the generals in power.

They forced a constitution that will guarantee the military at least 25 percent of legislative seats in next year's election.

In the past week Burma has released about 20 political prisoners. But rights groups say there are more than 2,000 in detention, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

The United States and other countries have sanctions against Burma for suppressing Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy which won the most seats in 1990 legislative elections.

The Obama administration says it plans to review the sanctions policy.

ASEAN's Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan on Sunday told VOA that Burma should take the opportunity seriously.

"It is a new beginning. Change or not change we do not know," said Pitsuwan. "But, certainly there is a new beginning with the new administration in Washington."

Former ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong told VOA the U.S. policy review was the most important thing to happen on Burma since last year's summit. He said Burmese authorities needed to respond positively or else the opportunity would be missed.

"I am not optimistic that they are going to move very fast," said Yong. "I am not sure how they are going to respond. But, I believe that all these voices, all these conversations must be having an impact on them. Whether we are going to see immediate reaction I am not sure."

Saturday at the summit, the Burmese and Cambodian Prime Ministers refused to meet with rights activists from their countries, despite the dialogue being on the official schedule.

A women's caucus representative told VOA that activists from Laos and Brunei did not attend the summit for fear of reprisals from their governments.

Despite the lack of engagement in what was billed as a "people's" summit, Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan was optimistic that progress was being made.

"But, I think we take comfort in the fact that at least they have begun to accept the fact that they cannot keep out the people and the civil society forever," he said. "So, that is a good beginning. And, let us move from there."

Also at this year's ASEAN sunnit, a free-trade agreement signed between ASEAN, Australia, and New Zealand that could be worth tens of billions of dollars. The agreement was hailed as one element in the fight against the global financial crisis.

Other ASEAN members include Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

东盟峰会结束 促缅甸释放政治犯

东南亚国家联盟结束了在泰国召开的首脑会议,并发表了一个简短的声明,鼓励缅甸释放政治犯,允许民主发展。

这次峰会的东道主--泰国总理阿披实正式宣布,为期两天的东盟会议结束。

在媒体简报会上,他对记者们说,东盟领导人同意要为推动地区合作和加速经济一体化而更加努力。

*促缅按民主路线图行进*

他说,东盟还对最不受欢迎的成员国--缅甸发出了信息。

阿披实说:“东盟各国领导人鼓励缅甸继续同联合国合作,确保路线图能根据计划继续进行,使民主进程尽量具有包容性,这当然包括继续释放政治犯或在押政治人士,并允许所有政党参加即将举行的选举。”

缅甸军政府制订了“民主路线图”,但批评人士说,这份路线图是为了使将军们能继续掌权。

军政府强行制定了一部宪法,保证军方在明年的选举中至少占有25%的议会席位。

*东盟秘书长:缅应把握机会*

在过去一周里,缅甸释放了大约20名政治犯。但是维权团体说,缅甸还关押着2000多名政治犯,包括诺贝尔和平奖获得者昂山素季。

美国和其它国家因为军政府压制昂山素季领导的全国民主联盟而对缅甸实施了制裁。全国民主联盟曾在1990年的选举中获得议会多数席位。奥巴马政府表示要重新审议制裁政策。

东盟秘书长素林星期日对美国之音说,缅甸应该认真把握这个机会。

他说:“这是一个新的开端。我们不知道会不会出现改变,但是美国新一届政府上台的确带来了新的开端。”

东盟前秘书长王景荣对美国之音说,美国的政策审议是去年东盟峰会召开以来在缅甸问题上发生的最重要的事。他说,缅甸当局必须对此作出正面回应,否则就会失去这次机会。

他说:“我对缅甸军政府是否会迅速行动并不乐观,我也不确定他们会作出什么反应。但是,我觉得,所有这些呼声、这些对话必然会对他们产生影响。但我不能肯定我们是否能马上看到缅甸的反应。”

*良好的开端?*

在星期六的峰会上,缅甸和柬埔寨的总理拒绝同来自他们自己国家的维权人士会晤,尽管这些对话是列入官方日程表的。

来自妇女干部会议的一名代表告诉美国之音,老挝和文莱的维权人士没有参加会议,因为他们害怕这会招致政府的报复。

虽然在这次所谓“人民的”峰会上缺少直接对话,但是东盟秘书长素林乐观地认为会议还是取得了进展。

他说:“让我们得以自慰的是,至少这些国家的政府开始接受一个现实,那就是:他们不能把人民和公民社会永远排除在外。因此,这是一个良好的开端,让我们在此基础上继续努力。”

在今年的东盟峰会上,东盟同澳大利亚和新西兰签署了价值可能达到数百亿美元的自由贸易协定。人们赞扬这项协定是抗击全球金融危机的一个组成部分。

其它东盟成员国还包括马来西亚、新加坡、越南、印度尼西亚和菲律宾。